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Water-Wise Landscaping: Plant Maintenance - Utah State University

Water-Wise Landscaping: Plant Maintenance - Utah State University

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Water-Wise Landscaping: Plant Maintenance - Utah State University
Water-Wise Landscaping: Plant Maintenance - Utah State University

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Published by: Drought Gardening Solutions Group on Aug 10, 2012
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February 2008 HG/Landscaping/2008-01pr
Water-Wise Landscaping: Plant Maintenance
Taun Beddes
Cache County Horticulture Agent,
 Heidi A. Kratsch
Ornamental Horticulture SpecialistA benefit of established water-wise landscapesis they require less time and money to maintain than atraditional landscape.This assumes you have limitedturfgrass to areas where it is practical, you have selectedplants adapted to your climate, and you have groupedlandscape plants according to their water, soil, andexposure requirements. In such a landscape, you willspend less time trying to manipulate plants to fit yourconditions, and more time enjoying their beauty.Although the activities required to maintain a water-wiselandscape are not different from those of a conventionallandscape, the way you think about them will change asyou reconsider your plant selections. The main activitiesof water-wise landscape maintenance are irrigation andirrigation system maintenance (covered separately inother fact sheets), weed control, fertilization, pruning,and pest and disease control. (For information onirrigating trees and shrubs and irrigation systemmaintenance, see http://extension.usu.edu/files/ publications/publication/HG-523.pdf andhttp://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/ factsheet/ HG_Irrigation_2004-01.pdf.) Keep in mind that newlyplanted landscapes will require much more “upfront”maintenance, especially regarding weed control, and thatall landscapes require some maintenance, whether theyare water-wise or not. With persistence and patience,your water-wise garden will become more self-sustaining and require much less of your time.
Weed Control
A weed is simply a plant out of place. With thatin mind, any plant can be a potential weed if it crowdsout or uses up resources needed for desirable plants.Some “weedy” plants become such a problem that theyend up being declared “noxious” in a particular region.Controlling weeds is critical to maintaining a healthywater-wise landscape because weeds compete withdesirable plants for nutrients, moisture, and sunlight.Remember that water used by a weed is unavailable todesirable plants. Weeds can be annual (germinate,reproduce, and die in one season) or perennial (surviveover many years). It is important to learn to recognizeand classify weeds in the seedling stage because this willdetermine your best control options. Perennial weeds areespecially difficult to control if you let them growbeyond the seedling stage because they establish deeproot systems that are hard to eradicate. You may alsofind it helpful to learn to distinguish between weedseedlings and seedlings of self-sowing desirable plants,especially if you are using self-sowing plants to fill insome areas of your garden. Methods for controllingweeds include mechanical removal, physical barrierssuch as landscape fabric and/or mulch, and herbicides.Mechanical removal of weeds can beaccomplished by hand-pulling, hoeing, or tilling.
 Eventhough hand-pulling weeds can be tedious, if done on aregular basis before weeds go to seed, it is the least destructive method of controlling weeds in established  plantings.
Hand-pulling works with either annual orperennial weeds, as long as you catch them in theseedling stage. It can be difficult to pull out the entireroot system of an established perennial, and if you don’t,it can sprout again from the root or crown. Never leaveannual or perennial weeds on top of soil or mulch afterpulling because some persistent weeds can re-sproutfrom root crowns and root systems left on the ground.Annual weeds that haven’t gone to seed can becomposted, but perennial weeds should always bediscarded in the trash. Hoeing and tilling are alternativesto hand-pulling, but care must be taken aroundestablished plantings so you don’t disturb or destroy theroots of desirable plants.
Mulches should be used around landscape plantsto inhibit weeds and conserve water. Mulches can beorganic materials such as composted wood chips, pineneedles, or grass clippings, or they can be inorganicmaterials such as crushed stone or gravel. Weedseedlings that do come up in mulched areas are mucheasier to hand-pull, as long as you catch them early.Organic mulches will need to be refreshed regularly asthey slowly decompose. Do this by roughing up the oldmulch and adding a light layer of new mulch over thetop. Inorganic mulches need to be replaced infrequently.Landscape fabric is another effective method forcontrolling weeds, but its use around landscape plants iscontroversial. It can interfere with air and waterinfiltration, and it may inhibit return of organic matterfrom decomposition of organic mulches to the soil.Landscape fabrics may discourage some desirableperennials from their natural tendency to grow andspread, and it can make division and replacement of these plants difficult. Fabrics also can girdle newlyplanted trees. The best use of landscape fabric is beneath3 to 4 inches of mulch in unplanted areas like walkways,where they can form an effective barrier to weed growth.(See http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/ publication/HG_Landscaping_2007-01pr.pdf for moreinformation on the use of mulch.)The weed control method of last resort should beherbicide use. Of the many options available, pre-emergent herbicides and products containing glyphosateare among the safest and most effective. Pre-emergentherbicides are moved into the soil and activated bymoisture. If they are applied in late fall or winter,moisture from either rain or snow precipitation should beadequate to activate them. If precipitation does not occurwithin three days of application, 1 to 2 inches of watershould be applied to treated soil. Areas of your gardenthat are watered infrequently or not at all may notreceive the full benefit of pre-emergent herbicideapplication unless you remember to water them in soonafter application. Pre-emergent herbicides work bykilling seedlings as they sprout, but they will eliminateall germinating plants, not just weeds. Use a pre-emergent herbicide only in areas that are, or will be,planted with rooted plants. Do not use them if you relyon self-sowing plants (see insert) to fill in gaps in yourperennial flower beds. Glyphosate products eliminateboth grasses and broadleaf plants, and are applieddirectly to emerged, actively growing weeds. Glyphosatetakes 7 to 10 days to have an effect. Do not allowglyphosate-containing products to contact desirableplants, and do not spray under windy conditions becausespray drift can also cause unintentional damage todesirable plants. Always read the label for safe andeffective use. (See “Landscape and Garden WeedControl” for more information:http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/HG508.pdf.)
All plants require nutrients to grow and remainhealthy, but many drought-tolerant native and adaptedplants can get all the nutrients they need from a properlymaintained soil environment. Many of our urbanlandscape soils, however, have been stripped of organicmatter and the soil structure disturbed to the point wherenothing but the most persistent weeds will grow. For thisreason, it is a good idea to have your soil tested prior toinstalling landscape plants. (For information on soiltesting and soil test results, see the following fact sheets:http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/HG-513.pdf and http://extension.usu.edu/files/ publications/ publication/HG-512.pdf.) Your countyExtension office can provide information specific toyour area. In most cases, amending soils with compostedorganic matter prior to planting will improve the fertilityof your soil. Adding organic mulch to planted areas alsohelps to improve soil fertility over time. If part of yourgarden will be comprised largely of drought-tolerantnative plants, organic amendments may be all they needto thrive. Many drought-tolerant plants have adapted totheir arid habitats by growing slower than traditionallandscape plants. Over-fertilizing these plants onlyweakens them and results in rank, unsightly growth. Infact, many of the penstemons and desert-adapted shrubslike
Chrysothamnus nauseosus
(Rabbitbrush) and
Fallugia paradoxa
(Apache Plume) thrive on neglectand require the excellent drainage provided by inorganicrock mulch and little to no supplemental fertilization.Knowing the habitat your plants are adapted to is critical
Some perennials that readily self-sow:
spp. (Columbine)
spp. (Wallflower)
spp. (Blanketflower)
spp. (Gaura)
Iliamna rivularis 
(Mountain Hollyhock)
 Mirabilis multiflora 
(Showy Four O’ Clock)
Senecio douglasii 
(Douglas Groundsel)
Sidalcea oregano 
(Oregon Checkermallow)
 Viguiera multiflora 
(Showy Goldeneye)
to understanding your plant’s needs. If you don’t know,err on the side of less rather than more nutrients, andwatch plants closely throughout the growing season forsigns of deficiency. Nutrient-deficient plants maydevelop yellow or discolored foliage. If this happens,simply add organic matter or a controlled-release type of complete fertilizer around the root zone, water inthoroughly, and watch for improvement.Other factors may affect the availability ormovement of nutrients through the soil. Plants in sandysoils may need more frequent fertilization than plants inloamy or clay soils. Soils that are alkaline (high pH) maybind essential nutrients and make them unavailable. Asoil test will provide this information and makerecommendations for amending the soil. An alternativeto soil amendment is to choose plants that are adapted tothese conditions. Utah soils are often alkaline, andtextures can range from rocky or sandy to silty loam orclay. Fortunately, plants native to our region haveadapted to these conditions, and you can choose from avariety of native plants to fill almost any microclimate inyour landscape. The key is to learn as much as you canabout your yard and your plants. Paying attention to theneeds of your landscape plants will make you a moresuccessful gardener.
Controlling Plant Growth
Periodically, you will need to control the growthof your landscape plants by pruning, pinching ordeadheading, and dividing. These activities will maintainyour plants’ health and appearance by removing dead orundesirable growth, and by stimulating, reinvigorating,or re-directing their growth. Remember that providingonly the amount of water or fertilizer plants need tomaintain their health and vigor means less time spentcontrolling unruly growth. Some locally adapted nativeplants may quickly grow out of their space whenprovided with the relatively abundant resources availablein a managed landscape. An example is
(Matchbrush). Withholding water or nutrientswill keep growth of this species in check.
. Pruning is a way to control growth ontrees and shrubs. Many forms of pruning exist, and thekind of cut you make depends upon the desired resultand the growth habit of the plant. For example, mostdeciduous shrubs (shrubs that drop their leaves in fall)benefit from
cuts that open up their canopy andeliminate old or competing stems. Thinning cuts aremade by cutting a branch back to its point of origin. Thepoint of origin could be another branch or the maintrunk, or it could be near the ground. Thinning can beused to shape or direct growth, but most often it is usedto reduce bulk and restore the natural structure of theplant. A
cut is more severe than a thinning cut,and removes part of a branch leaving a short stubabove a bud. This type of cut stimulates a profusion of twiggy growth from a lateral bud just below the cut. It isused to stimulate new growth from a lateral bud to fill ina gap in the canopy, or to increase flower production insome shrubs. Sometimes it is mistakenly used when athinning cut would have been a better choice. Overuse of heading cuts can ruin the natural shape of a tree or shrub.
is the most severe type of heading cutand involves cutting a plant’s outer foliage to create aneven surface. Only certain trees and shrubs will benefitfrom this type of cut. Shearing can be used to create ahedge or screen with closely spaced plants. Some woodyplants can be treated like herbaceous perennials andsheared almost to the ground to control their growth orto restore them to a more natural shape (see insert). Mostpruning should be done in late winter or early springbefore spring growth begins. For plants that flower onlast year’s growth, prune after flowering. With only afew exceptions, most native conifers require no pruning.For example, junipers are highly valued for their naturalshape. Junipers that have outgrown their space should beremoved rather than pruned. (For more information onpruning trees, see the following extension bulletin:http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/NR_FF_004.pdf.
)Management of dead plant material.
Thebloom time of some annuals and herbaceous perennialscan be extended by removing flowers as soon as theystart to decline. This is called
, and someplants can be stimulated to repeat bloom when youremove the spent flowers. In the case of plants with aflower on a single stem, cut back the entire stem to avoida gangly, headless stem. If you don’t deadhead plantsthat repeat bloom, the plant will set seed, signaling theend of flower production for the season.
plant with flowers and seed heads

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